[Mb-civic] EDITORIAL Ashcroft's Missteps Mount LATimes

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Fri Sep 3 14:50:33 PDT 2004



Ashcroft's Missteps Mount

 September 3, 2004

 Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft has touted his efforts
to nab "sleeper cells" inside the United States. But Ashcroft and his
associates too often have sleepwalked. The Justice Department's admission
Wednesday of potentially criminal prosecutorial misconduct in a prominent
Detroit terrorism case does good for the cause of trampled civil liberties
but doesn't inspire much confidence about efforts to find real terrorists
who may be lurking in the U.S.

 Federal prosecutors arrested four defendants in Detroit a week after Sept.
11, 2001, accusing them of conspiring to launch attacks on targets such as
the U.S.' Incirlik Air Base in Turkey. In June 2003, a jury convicted two of
aiding terrorists and one of document fraud alone. One was acquitted. On
Thursday, a federal judge threw out the convictions because, among other
things, prosecutors withheld a jailhouse letter discrediting the
government's star witness and mischaracterized doodles in a sketchbook as
drawings of likely terror targets.

 If this were an isolated instance, it would be one thing. But other cases
have gone belly-up. In May, Ashcroft and the FBI targeted Brandon Mayfield,
a 37-year-old Oregon lawyer, as being linked to the Madrid bombings. Defying
the findings of Spanish investigators, they insisted that his fingerprints
matched those on a plastic bag connected to the bombings. They didn't, and
Mayfield was unconditionally released. Most recently, the Justice Department
lost a case against a computer student in Boise, Idaho, who was acquitted of
charges that he was raising money for terrorist causes.

 Less consequential but more absurd is the U.S. revocation of a
work/residence visa to Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim scholar from Geneva who was
scheduled to teach Islamic studies this fall at the University of Notre
Dame. Ramadan, whose extensive writings contain fuel for friend and foe
alike, repudiates terror and says in an opinion piece in The New York Times
that he merely seeks "a way for Muslims to remain faithful to their
principles and, at the same time, face the challenges of the contemporary
world." If anything, the administration is turning him into a martyr and
giving him free publicity.

 Some will seize on these incidents to accuse the administration of an
anti-Muslim vendetta. But the FBI also is mired in a murky investigation of
the Defense Department's dealings with Israel. So it probably isn't
anti-Muslim malice, or at least that alone, at work. It's more like
ambitious employees intent on pleasing an authoritarian boss by any means

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 Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

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